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Full Nelson: Emerging Mobile Enterprise Ready For Business

Visage, Fiberlink, Mellmo and Good may not be household names, but their mobile solutions make it possible to extend the corporation today. Like RIM and Sybase, they lack the hype, but thrive among a dearth of enterprise-class tools.

Squeezed somewhere between headlines about new handsets and the rise of Android, hidden behind mobile operator talk of 4G, and trapped among the self-perpetuating mucus of mobile platforms (Maemo and MeeGo and LIMO), there's a message for the mobile enterprise: The technology is finally here to extend your organization. It's not easy, but the productivity gains are well worth the effort.

Consumers are easy to please with the shiniest new object. Like hypnotists at an LSD-infested rave, manufacturers just dangle slide-out keypads or slap a fruit logo on a device. Nobody's happier than when they're pinching or swiping or multi-touching. Research In Motion (RIM) tried to convince me that its BlackBerry TouchPad could be used like a touch screen. Luckily, I'm drug free, so I didn't fall for it.

But IT departments and the internal and external users they serve need something more substantial. They need some semblance of applications and data re-imagined for the mobile form factor. They need airtight security (in transport, at rest) and device management. What they need requires a bit more thought and planning and complexity (ever seen the architecture behind RIM's BES?). CIOs want to extend the enterprise, distributing applications and data beyond borders, independent of device.

Great technology exists, but the choices are slimmer than that earthy waif at your local coffee house. On the device side, while the iPhone is more prevalent than ever and Android is just starting to rev up thanks to its device independence, nobody touches BlackBerry in the enterprise. It's still the best at offering a managed messaging service with security, scale, and integration. It might not be easy to play Ski-ball on it, but it sure is delightful at user productivity.

For most other platforms -- Windows Mobile, Android, Palm's WebOS, iPhone, and Symbian - there's Good Technology, with encrypted transport, remote device management, and policy enforcement, among other features. But RIM and Good have few challengers (both have been approved by the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security).

Selling to the enterprise is hard. Building for the enterprise is hard. (Good even leaves the door open a little, admitting by its own name that someone should try to do it better.) Sybase, too, is largely alone and vastly unknown as the middleware stack for mobile enterprise software. (You can read a little more about them here.)

RIM, Good, and Sybase are household names compared to Visage, whose Mobility Central helps organizations manage mobile usage across carriers, devices, and users, down to the minute and text message. All of the data it manages exists elsewhere: in the reports you get from your carrier, or in a device or software inventory database. But Visage yanks it all into one place and helps you make sense of it. It's at its best when an organization has multiple devices and multiple carrier plans to manage. In other words, most organizations.

With Visage, you can set policy based on, say, roles, and those policies can dictate number of minutes and what employees are allowed to do (pictures, text messaging, for example). But more than anything, it lets you get a handle on what the various plans are and how people are using those plans (underutilizing or abusing) so you can reset policies and expectations, and also push your carrier partners and plans in new ways (changing pooling arrangements, for instance).

Some of the biggest problems companies have managing mobility are devices that are out of service but still being billed, employees who don't know policies for things like international phone use, or those spending lots of money on things like ring tones (a bigger problem than most imagine). Visage makes all of that information easy to spot and then manage. All of the data is presented in easy-to-view charts, and you can e-mail and/or export the data for employees, or for the management team.

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